Diwali: India’s biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and global citizens

Round golden tray with lit candles

Diya lamps and candles lit for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Pexels

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7: The festival of lights launches from India today and crosses the globe, in the ancient celebration of Diwali. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. (Note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region. In some regions—such as Texas, U.S., Auckland, New Zealand and Manchester, England—festivals are already taking place.)

Extra! FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis adds more about Diwali—plus a delicious recipe!

PREPARATIONS AND CELEBRATIONS

Man in white Indian tunic making circle of light with sparkler firecracker

Happy Diwali! Photo by Varun Khurana, courtesy of Flickr

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance, so a flurry of pre-Diwali activity can be seen in most cities of India. In a shopping extravaganza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. The night’s extravaganza is a sky ablaze with fireworks, and families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts. Tonight, the diyas will remain lit through the dark hours.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

ATMAN: THE SOUL

Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali revels in the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, one can see past ignorance and into the oneness of all things.

DIWALI AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHinduJainSikh

Navaratri: Hindus celebrate nine nights of femininity and goddess Durga

Dancers in colorful dresses in front of stone temple

Garba dancers for Navaratri. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9: An ancient festival that emphasizes the motherhood of the divine and femininity, Hindus begin the nine-night religious festival known as Sharad Navaratri (English spellings vary; the name often appears without the middle “a”). Each night during Navaratri, Hindus worship a different form or characteristic of the Mother Goddess Durga, who is regarded as being manifested in cosmic energy and power. In general, Sharad Navaratri is the celebration of good over evil, though many aspects of this tradition vary by region in India and around the world.

Did you know? Navaratri means, literally, “nine nights” (“nava” and “ratri”).

Navaratri in its basic form takes place a number of times during the seasons of each year, but it’s Sharad Navaratri—this festival, at the beginning of autumn—that takes precedence over any other. Sharad Navaratri culminates on a final day known as Dussehra.

Legends related to this observance differ: Some indicate that Shiva gave permission to Durga to visit her mother for nine days, while others describe Durga’s victory following a nine-day battle with the demon Mahishasura. Life-size clay figures depicting this battle are commonly seen in temples during Navaratri. But there is a universal theme to this tradition, too: All Hindus aim for purity, avoiding meat, grains and alcohol—and usually installing a household pot that is kept lit for nine days. Some devotees fast, and others consume only milk and fruit for nine days.

ORCHESTRAS, DANCING AND SHRINES

Navaratri brings out orchestras and community-wide singing in India: nighttime dances in the streets combine with bountiful feasts and shrines are elaborately decorated. In Saraswat Brahmin temples, statue figures are adorned with flowers, sandalwood paste and turmeric.

In some regions of India, it’s believed that one should try to envision the divinity in the tools used for daily life—whether books, computers or larger instruments—and decorate them with flowers and other adornments, in hopes of both humbling themselves and bringing auspiciousness upon the items that aid them in livelihood.

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Categories: Hindu

Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus celebrate Ganesha with vibrant colors, figures & treats

Pink elephant statue close-up with bangles and jewels and paint

Lord Ganesha. Photo by Kaushal Jangid, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13: The sight of thousands of colorful, detailed elephant-type figures and the scent of sweet modak treats signal that Ganesha Chaturthi has arrived in India!

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the grandest, most beloved and longest festivals of India, and the Hindu god Ganesha is honored during this time, known also as Vinayaka Chaturthi. For 10 days—until Anant Chaturdashi—many Jain, Christian and Muslim families across India join Hindus in celebrating the event. Images of Ganesha are temporarily installed in public pandals (shrines) and in homes, and worshipped for several days, until they are taken to a local body of water and immersed.

Did you know? Lord Ganesha is believed to be the giver of fortune and one who can remove all obstacles to success.

Months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artists mold models of the elephant-god. Figures may range in size from less than one inch to almost 100 feet, most of them made of clay, Plaster-of-Paris, papier-mache or organic materials. In many areas of India, artists and industries earn a considerable portion of their yearly income preparing for Ganesh Chaturthi. Some regions host fairs, concerts, skits and dancing during the festival. Where an image of Ganesh is installed, the surrounding area is decorated with floral garlands, lights and more. Priests chant mantras to invoke Ganesha’s presence into the statues.

From a Hindu scholar: Hindu scholar, writer and activist Padma Kuppa writes a guest column in FeedTheSpirit this week, sharing her perspective on the holiday. And, Padma includes a delicious, traditional recipe as well. She includes in this column additional links to learn more about the holiday and its beloved foods.

GANESH: CLAY & PLASTER, FROM INDIA TO THE UK—AND BEYOND

Though clay models used to be the primary material of Ganesh figures, demand and price led to the use of Plaster-of-Paris, which is not biodegradable. When Plaster-of-Paris Ganesh statues were immersed into water—also covered in chemical paints that contain heavy metals—water pollution began threatening the environment and statues began washing up onto sandy beaches. In response, green initiatives have been launched across India. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made of PoP was banned and a return to traditional clay or reusable figures is growing in popularity. In some areas, pools are set up for the safe immersion of statues.

Tens of thousands of Hindus in the UK publicly observe Ganesh Chaturthi, from Paris to London and beyond. In the U.S., temples and associations mark the festival, and the Philadelphia Ganesh Festival (PGF) is the largest Hindu festival in North America. Ganesha is also celebrated across Canada, in Malaysia and Singapore and in Indian populations around the world.

NEWS UPDATES: Get all the latest news on Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations with an article from The Hindu; a footage video from the Times of India; and a recipe from the Mumbai Mirror.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Holi: Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and revelers worldwide welcome spring in vibrant color

Colored powders in air, crowd below

Holi festival in Spanish Fork, Utah, at the Sri Radha Krishna Temple. Photo by Steven Gerner, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MARCH 2: Shouts ring through the streets as colored powders fill the air: It’s Holi!

In India today and around the globe, the thrilling Hindu festival of Holi is in full swing. Termed the “Festival of Colours,” Holi calls all participants to set aside castes and manners for the day so that young and old, rich and poor, men and women can all gather to welcome the joy of spring.

HOLI EVE: HOLIKA DAHAN

Holi unofficially begins on Holi eve, in a ritual of burning bonfires to commemorate the legend of Prahlad. According to legend, Prahad miraculously escaped a fire when the Demoness Holika carried him in; Hindus believe Prahlad emerged with not even a scratch, due to his devotion to the deity Vishnu. The scores of Holika bonfires serve as reminder of the victory of good over evil and, in some regions, effigies of the demoness are burnt in the fires.

Songs are sung in high pitch around the bonfire, accompanied by traditional dances. After a frivolous night, celebrants wake early the next morning for a day of carefree fun.

KRISHNA AND HOLI, LOVE AND SPRINGTIME

Hand with colored powder

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Krishna is the primary deity worshipped during the festival of Holi: The divine love of Radha for Krishna makes Holi a festival of love. Various legends explain the link between the child Krishna and Holi’s many colors, as winter’s neutrality makes way for the colorful essence of spring during this beloved holiday.

A demand for organic, healthy Holi colors has spurred a new trend in recent years, and more companies and organizations are working with recycled flowers, vegetables and natural powders. Long ago, Holi’s powders were made with clay, flowers and dried vegetables, but in recent decades, synthetic powders (that contain lead, asbestos and other toxic substances) were used, as they were widely available and inexpensive. Though convenient to buy, the synthetic powders have caused widespread environmental and health concern. Regulations are still underway, but experts anticipate that the demands of young generations will someday be satisfied with a healthier, “greener” Holi.

KING OF HOLI: In Barsana, in India, courting takes on a new twist as men sing provocative songs to women and the women literally beat the men away with sticks (don’t worry—the men carry shields to protect themselves). In Western India, pots of buttermilk are hung high above the streets in symbolism of the pranks of Lord Krishna, and crowds of boys compete to build human pyramids and reach the top pot. The boy who reaches the pot is crowned King of Holi.

SIKHS & HOLA MOHALLA

Sikhs turn to a different festival during the time of Holi: Hola Mohalla, literally translated into “mock fight.” In 1699 CE, the 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa, a group of men who had shown immense bravery and selflessness. These saint-soldiers pledged loyalty to the poor and oppressed, vowing to defend wherever injustice was present. Two years later, Guru Gobind Singh instituted a day of mock battles and poetry contests, to demonstrate the skills and values of the Khalsa and to inspire other Sikhs. Today, these events have evolved into Hola Mohalla, a week-long festival replete with music, military processions and kirtans. Food is voluntarily prepared and large groups of Sikhs eat in communion. The largest annual Hola Mohalla festival is held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, although many gurdwaras worldwide hold their own versions of the events at Anandpur.

The Nihangs, bearing the symbol of the Khalsa, often display their skills at Hola Mohalla and are distinct for their blue robes, large turbans, swords, all-steel bracelets and uncut hair. During Hola Mohalla, Nihangs display a mastery of horsemanship, war-like sports and use of arms. Guru Gobind Singh instructed Sikhs to obey the highest ethical standards and to always be prepared to fight tyranny.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaSikh

Maha Shivaratri: Hindus fast, hold vigils and worship for the ‘Great Night of Shiva’

Icebreaker!

If you know someone from the Hindu tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Maha Shivaratri? How does your family mark the occasion?

 

Statue of blue Lord Shiva with one leg up under umbrella in middle of buildings

A figure of Lord Shiva. Photo by Rashi, courtesy of Skitterphoto

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Fasting and worship, temple visitations and ritual baths for Lord Shiva are followed by a nighttime vigil on Maha Shivaratri, a holiday observed across India and by Hindus around the world. On Maha Shivaratri, many Hindus believe that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava—the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Lord Shiva, a member of the Hindu Trinity, is associated with several legends and renowned as the model of an ideal husband.

LEGENDS, RITUALS—AND LORD SHIVA’S FAVORITE DAY

Hindus in India, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the world share stories as well as traditions on this renowned holiday. According to one legend, Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, were married on this day. As the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvatai is regarded as ideal, married women pray for the well-being of their husbands and single women pray that they will find a husband like Shiva. In another traditional story, Lord Shiva manifested in the form of a Linga on Maha Shivaratri, and thus the day is regarded as extremely auspicious. It’s believed that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri—Lord Shiva’s favorite day—will bring absolution of sins, neutrality of the mind and assistance in liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Did you know? Maha Shivaratri means “the Great Night of Shiva.”

As a time for “overcoming darkness and ignorance” devotees begin Maha Shivaratri early in the day. After a a ritual bath, many Hindus visit a temple, where they pray, make offerings, chant prayers and bathe figures of Shiva in milk, honey or water. Many devotees either fast or partake in only milk and fruit throughout the day, as they contemplate virtues such as forgiveness, honesty and self-discipline. As evening falls, worship to Lord Shiva continues, and hymns and devotional songs are sung to Shiva throughout the night.

A NEWSWORTHY TEMPLE: A Shiva destination that comprises 15 temples is being hailed as a “photographer’s delight” by one visitor, in a recent article in Telangana Today. On Maha Shivaratri, the typically quiet temple complex becomes a destination of much celebration, as Hindus from around the district arrive to worship Lord Shiva.

 

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Vasant Panchami: Hindus and Sikhs herald springtime, begin cycle leading to Holi

Icebreaker!

If you know someone from the Hindu tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Vasant Panchami? How does your family mark the occasion?

 

Statue goddess with yellow flowers over her

A statue of the goddess Saraswati. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JANUARY 22: Welcome the approaching season of spring and don the color yellow, as Hindus and Sikhs in India and beyond celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami (spellings vary).

Literally the fifth day of spring, Vasant Panchami honors Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music, art, culture, learning and knowledge. Today, the spring cycle will begin that ends with Holi, the massive spring festival that is now celebrated internationally.

Did you know? Saraswati is often depicted seated on a white lotus, with four hands. The four hands symbolize the aspects of learning: manas (mind, sense), buddhi (intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkāra (self consciousness, ego).

For Sikhs, Vasant Panchami marks the day in Amritsar when musicians begin singing the Basant Raga, a practice that will continue until the first day of Vaisakh. In some regions of India, kites fill the sky, and the festival is better known as the Basant Festival of Kites.

VASANT PANCHAMI: HONORING SARASWATI, KNOWLEDGE AND SPRING

An ancient celebration stretching back thousands of years, Vasant Panchami reveres Kamadeva, the god of love, and his friend Vasant (the personification of spring). In modern times, however, rituals for the goddess Saraswati have taken precedence over Kamadeva. Hindus treat Vasant Panchami as Saraswati’s birthday, worshiping the goddess and filling her temples with food. Figures of Saraswati are often draped in yellow clothing, and as the deity is considered supreme in many types of knowledge, students ask for her blessings. It is traditional that children begin learning the alphabet or their first words on Vasant Panchami, believing it auspicious to do so. While donning yellow clothing, Hindus often make and distribute yellow foods and treats to neighbors, family and friends.

A log with a figure of the demoness Holika is placed in a public area on Vasant Panchami, and for 40 days, devotees will add twigs and sticks to form an enormous pile. The pyre is lit on Holi eve (this year, March 1) at or after sunset.

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Categories: Hindu

Diwali: Hindus, Jains and Sikhs mark dazzling festival of lights

Girl poses with candle-lit bowls of oil

A girl with diya lamps lit for Diwali. Photo by Partha Sarathi Sahana, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19: The ancient Hindu celebration of Diwali—a global festival of lights—launches from India today. In acknowledgment of and gratitude for the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali holds great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. (Note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region.)

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance: In a shopping bonanza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India, while at home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

Did you know? Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of earthen lamps—filled with oil—are lit in homes and temples.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. To receive the blessings of Lakshmi on this night means a good year ahead. On Diwali evening, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts and the sky is ablaze with fireworks. Tonight, the diyas will remain lit through the dark hours.

News from Delhi, 2017: In efforts toward a smoke- and noise-free Diwali, the sale of fireworks has been banned in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) this year. Read the story in the Times of India.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj (also spelled Bhai Dooj) celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

DIWALI, MAHAVIRA & BANDI CHHOR DIVAS

For Jains: On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness. Today, many Jains fast, meditate on Mahavira and chant this Tirthankar’s words during Diwali.

For Sikhs: Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and 52 Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more. For some Sikhs, Diwali also is a time to remember the martyrdom of Sikh scholar Bhai Mani Singh in 1737, and the eventual establishment of the Khalsa rule.

EXTRAS

Find a kid-friendly approach to teaching about Diwali from National Geographic.

Access recipes, poems, wallpapers and more at DiwaliFestival.org.

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Categories: Hindu